I do not handle the stress of an upcoming marathon very well. Outwardly, I exude calm and cool, and I hold casual conversations with acquaintances about how my training is going (e.g., “great, I am in the tapering stages and continuing my speed work blah blah blah”), but as marathon morning approaches, I lose it all. My lovely wife, Jen, has to put up with my incessant worrying about my training, my knee pain (there is always knee pain with me), my sore muscles, my diet, the logistics of marathon weekend, etc. It all comes to a head the night before the marathon, when we are lying in bed trying to sleep; we have variations on this conversation every time:
Me: Please don’t make me run this marathon tomorrow morning!
Jen: I am not making you do anything. You voluntarily paid money to do this.
Me: We can pretend that I ran it! We could tell people that there must have been something wrong with my timing chip! We can sneak off the course and see the sights of this wonderful city! I’m not promising anything, but donuts and/or chocolate might be involved!
Jen: You are running the race. Go to sleep.
Me: Please, no! I’ll do anything! Here’s a thought: I’ll quit my job, become a stay-at-home dad and freelancer, take care of your every need, and do all the housekeeping, yard work, child care, cooking, home and car maintenance, gardening, and anything else you want so you can focus on your career!
Jen: You already have been doing that. For the last decade.
Me: Then I’ll get another, nicer, better-paying job, and then quit that one in a more dramatic fashion than the last one! Just don’t make me run!
Jen: Now you are embarrassing yourself.
That’s generally how most of our conversations end. The night before the marathon, then, for me, is not fun. I hardly sleep, I use the bathroom 5 (or 10) times, and I can barely hold down my pasta dinner. If you talk to me 1 or 2 months before a marathon, that’s when I am in my sweet spot. I am almost overconfident in the way that slightly-better-than-average runners are, talking to anyone who will listen about my race strategy and speaking as if I will be just a few strides behind the Shalanes and Mebs of the running world. (See what I did there? I even act as if I am on a first-name basis with elite runners.)
One week out is when things start to change. There is an ego balance between “Oh, you run 5Ks? How quaint” and “help me mommy!” between which I fluctuate. I assume that Shalane and Meb manage to keep their thoughts on the positive end of the ego balance. Me, not so much.
Do you remember the last hard exam you had to take, or the presentation or speech that you dreaded? That’s where I am in that last week. Simultaneously, I want time to stop so that I don’t have to go through with the race and I want time to speed up so that I can be at that point where it is already done.
This is where one of you reminds me to live in the moment. A strange thing happens on the morning of the race, though: I am so wrapped up in the logistics of getting to the starting line (where I have to enter my corral, when I should use the portable toilet for the last time, etc.) that by the time I kiss and hug my lovely wife and wade into the sea of runners, most of my nerves and fears and worries about injuries have washed away. An unusual calm comes over me, and as I approach the starting line and get ready to press the start button on my GPS watch, I am as relaxed as a spectator. All is well in my little world, and I am right where I want to be, about to run a marathon that I have trained and planned for over the last half year.
If only I could get that across to my one-week-out-from-the-race brain.